Graveyards of the living

Driving through rural areas of Upstate New York, one of the more prominent, and surreal architectual feature is the self-storage facility. Long and low, windowless with row upon row of rolling metal doors, they hover at the edge of rural communities like graveyards.

I remember as a small child asking my mother what those strange buildings were for. "For people to store things, honey." I gave my typical response to any answer: "Why?" Out of the thousands of 'whys?' that I asked between age 4 and 10, I remember this answer better than any: "Because sometimes people have to move away from their homes but can't take everything away from them, so they rent one of those to keep their things in."

It's amazing the effect that such a trivial comment can have upon a child. While today I know that the self-storage industry (led by the mighty Public Storage, with 1400 facilities across the nation) has many uses, but in my imagination every one of those empty doorways represents someone who has gone.

I can't help it, but when I drive by those long rows of buildings they come to represent my friends far away - John, Hammie, Ryan, Lindsey, Dan or one of the many others - those who left for places more exciting away to the south or west, or perhaps just a place where they can get a decent job. They left their home, but when they did, they left a piece of themselves there; like grandma's furniture that can't be fit in the UHaul, but is to precious to sell, memories of them linger here.

Sometimes they return, to open up the rolling door and dust off the family china set. Other times they linger elsewhere and back here, at home, paying the self-storage rent becomes less and less important until finally, that cubicle is emptied. To be filled by another. Like tombstones without names, for me, every self-storage unit marks the passing of a friend.

-by Jesse

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